I am not exaggerating when I say that High Risk Soldier: Trauma and Triumph in the Global War on Terror may be the best first-person military memoir I’ve ever read. Culled from Tarron Wharton’s personal journal and emails home, it captures so many sights, sounds, and emotions that come with a deployment that you will feel like you’re there – but even more than that, you will also read descriptions that you never have heard articulated so simply and so thoroughly. One example that particularly moved me was:
“You never really know how much a situation has affected you until you’re no longer neck-deep in it until you’re no longer looking over your shoulder until your mind finally registers “Hey, relax, no one is trying to kill you.” You get a massive outpouring of tension… followed by relief… and then followed by guilt. Finally, the strangest thing of all: you start to miss it. You find you feel more awkward back in this alternate reality than in your “normal” world, and you wonder what that means. You find things start to itch just under the surface. You miss the rumble of gunpowder and cordite and the throb of the pack. You find it all seems a little out of place back here.”
Tarron also has an officer’s eye for innovation and hints at prescriptions for systemic change. In our interview, I pushed to see what changes he would like to see to make mental health treatment less stigmatized. A sizeable hat-tip to Marshall McGurk, Ayman Kafel, and Project Sapient who brought the book to my attention – and to Ayman for co-hosting this episode with me.
Terron Wharton was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His chosen military path began with joining his high school’s JROTC program. His mother was not thrilled but agreed as long as Terron kept his GPA above a 3.0. He first learned about West Point while in JROTC and became the first in his family to attend a service academy. He graduated in 2005 with a degree in International Relations and was assigned to Armor Branch, his first choice. In October 2006 Terron deployed to FOB Rustamiyah in Baghdad, Iraq as a Tank Platoon Leader, leading 16 men and four tanks in combat.
This 15-month deployment occurred during “The Surge,” a period marked by high levels of violence and viewed as a turning point in the Iraq War. Terron deployed two other times as part of the Global War on Terror. The second was to Baghdad again, this time as a staff officer to one of the largest Coalition bases in Iraq, Victory Base Complex. The third deployment was to Kandahar City, Afghanistan, during which he led over 100 Soldiers as a Troop Commander and lived with over 400 Afghan Police.
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